Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Aesthetics of a Modern Cyberpunk

I've written quite a lot before on the blog about what a modern cyberpunk genre might look like. It would be set in medium-sized, depressed towns rather than big cities. It would involve food crime and theft of IP more than drugs. It would concern non-linear war. Rather than boostergangers, the danger would come from kids brought up on cellphones and twitter who never developed empathy. Rather than megacorporations or the State, freedom would be threatened by the new puritanism of trigger-warning and micro-aggression speech-codes. Rather than nuclear war, the fabric of State and society would be threatened by a broad spectrum of different terrorisms, from suicide bombers to serial killers to football hooligans.

All well and good, but modern cyberpunk would also need to change its aesthetic. 1980s cyberpunk was neon and skyscrapers, mirrorshades and cyberware, LEDs and hovercars. Alienation expressed through slickness, chrome, straight lines and bright lights.

All of that needs to be thrown out. Modern cyberpunk is grass verges that are overgrown because the council can't afford to have them cut. Modern cyberpunk is abandoned industrial estates with trees growing up through the car parks. Modern cyberpunk is white-elephant airports that never had passengers or planes and have now gone to seed. Modern cyberpunk is entire towns overgrown with weeds because nobody walks anywhere anymore and only the roads need to be clear. Modern cyberpunk is waste ground full of long grass, wild flowers, nettles and bees' nests, strung out between shuttered factories. It is former farms half-reclaimed by nature because GM crops take so much less space. It is banks of solar panels and wind farms with greenery flourishing in between. It is school playing fields re-wilded through disuse. Modern cyberpunk is green.









Friday, 15 July 2016

I Nurse Ambitions of World Domination

Specifically, I want to create a retroclone of Cyberpunk 2020, which combines the random tables approach of Yoon-Suin (create your own megacorporations, gangs, psychically distant medium-sized town, etc.) with Mike Pondsmith's classic "if you cover them in toxic waste, blast them with dynamite and sink them to the bottom of the ocean they still work" rules.

This will, naturally, be a runaway bestseller which catapults me into Gary Gygax - nay, JK Rowling - realms of wealth and influence.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Professional Ethics and Pride

Zak S wrote a post about professionalism. I was going to use it as a springboard to launch into some horrendously pretentious rant about Alistair MacIntyre and Aristotle, but I'll spare you that. Instead, I'll just say this:

Professional ethics are important - or, perhaps it is more accurate to say that professional ethics were once actually thought of as being very important but are now often only nominally important in my professions. Professional ethics are the kind of thing that would once, in a (likely non-existent golden age) have prevented your local bank manager from granting you a loan because he was worried it might not be good for your long-term financial health; or which still prevent doctors from acting against the best interests of their patients or teachers against the best interests of their students. They tend still to be alive in the kind of professions which actually think of themselves as professions - doctors, accountants, lawyers (don't laugh), teachers, actuaries, whatever - but even there they probably have been somewhat eroded. There is some suggestion that this may be because we have become very tick-boxy and superficial about what "ethics" means, and this has resulted in a sense of what is called "ethical fading" in the literature: a tendency among people to see ethics as something that is mostly about process and fulfilling requirements and consequently not to consider whether their actual behaviour is ethical. Form over content, in other words - as long as you are doing the correct procedure that must QED mean you are behaving ethically (even if you actually aren't).

Professional ethics also seem to me to be tied to something we often call "professional pride" - the idea that you have a job to do and that it is important to do it well, for the sake of one's own self respect and for the sake of the image of the profession as a whole. The ideal marriage of professional ethics and professional pride is, let's say, a civil servant who refuses to cut corners not just because it is "the wrong thing to do" but also because it may have negative consequences for the public and for him- or herself; and because he or she actually cares about how the public perceives civil servants.

Anybody who has a profession (and a conscience) probably recognises that there are such things as professional ethics and professional pride and that they matter. Professionalism isn't the same thing as commercialism, for this reason. Commercialism is about making money. Professionalism is about doing a job properly. Everybody also probably recognises that the world works at its best when people who have jobs to do perform them in a professional manner (i.e. with professional pride and a sense of professional ethics).

So while I take the point that the spirit of amateurism (of doing something out of love) is very important in being a DIY RPG designer, I also think that a heavy dose of professional ethics and professional pride are by no means bad things. God knows there are enough failed Kickstarters, unpaid freelancers, doomed projects and pieces of shoddy rubbish out there to suggest that being a good DIY RPG designer means having the right mix of amateurism and professional ethics and professional pride. I by no means having anything like the right mix: I am as lazy, feckless and unethical as they come. But that doesn't mean I can't at least try.


Thursday, 7 July 2016

Monsters in the Dreaming



I've posted before about Dreams Beneath the Ice, one of the memory realms (read: megadungeon layers) in Behind Gently Smiling Jaws. The conceit is that, as a young adult, the crocodile explored the world's oceans before burrowing beneath the earth on an island somewhere and hibernating through an ice age. While sleeping, it had dreams of the things it had encountered, and the memories of those dreams still populate part of its mind.

The idea is that in the Dreams Beneath the Ice is a network of burrows, tunnels and caves beneath the earth, but the creatures that are encountered there are mostly sea beasts. They move through the air in the tunnels as though it is water.

Here are some samples.

Storm Shoals

Shoals of fish, like clouds, like tempests beneath the waves: silver flowing billowing broiling masses, each moving as one vast unmeasurable gaseous form. As the crocodile slumbered beneath the ice it dreamed of them: neither hostile nor benevolent, but as mystical and capricious and numinous as the weather. Now they roam the Dreams Beneath the Ice, coming and going as if borne by the wind.

If encountered they swirl by and through like a storm. Roll 1d3 on an encounter. On a roll of 1 the fish simply buffet for 1hp of damage per round. On a roll of 2 the fish bite and gnaw for 1d3 damage per round. On a roll of 3 the sheer force of the fish carries the PCs away to a randomly determined location. (On a result of 1 or 2, the fish remain in place for 1d3 rounds.)

The Eyes of the Deep

In the depths of the oceans dwell big slimy fish as old or older than the crocodile itself – as old as the eons, as old as time, as old as the seas in which they drift. They survive not through grim vigour like the crocodile, but through implacable and insurmountable stillness: allowing the water to carry them through benthic waters so as to expend only the faintest glimmer of energy, and pausing only when necessary to unhinge their jaws to swallow an unfortunate fish. The crocodile knows them well – ancient companions from its youth. It dreamed of their blithe, calm hunger and considered them sentinels, watchers, observers, passers-by: the eyes of the deep, ever present, witnessing and never partaking.

Appears as a large, thick-bodied, grey-blue mucus-covered fish with oversized bulbous staring eyes and a vast mouth. Floats slowly through the water, barely twitching its fins.

HD 7 AC 18 AB +7 ATT Swallow (does 3d6 damage and swallows if doing more than 10 hp; swallowed victims take 1d6 damage per round until death)
*Their eyes are orbs of mesmeric intensity, like infinitely deep blue undersea trenches viewed from above: eye contact (1 in 2 chance for any attacker – roll each round) results in paralysis for 1d3 rounds on a failed save vs magic.
*What the Eyes of the Deep see is communicated somehow to all the other native inhabitants of the realm, who now know where the PCs are.

Intelligent Hunters

Alien intelligences lived in the shallow rocky places under the coastal seas where the crocodile swam and hunted. Muscular invertebrate things moving amongst reefs, in and out of the dappled sunlight beneath kelp forests, between cracks and inside holes. Things with many searching dextrous arms, clever eyes, movements betraying thought and reason. The crocodile saw them, watched them, and knew them for what they were: intelligent hunters, perhaps more intelligent even than itself.

Slumbering under the ice it dreamed of them. Arms moving. Eyes watching. Constantly searching. Constantly moving. Constantly creeping. Constantly hunting. Remorseless, inexorable killers beneath the waves.

The alien intelligences appear as large, fluidly-moving octopodes with sharp slit-like eyes and many long arms which can extend around them for vast distances and which endlessly search for things to kill.

HD 5, AC 14, AB +5 ATT Special
*The alien intelligences have huge numbers of tentacles – an impossible amount for their body’s size, which is up to 10 feet in diameter. However many targets there may be, there are sufficient numbers of tentacles to entangle and bind them and pull them towards the central maw – a sucking sphinctral mouth with endless greed. An Intelligent Hunter attacks all enemies each round with a STR 16 entanglement which hits automatically; each round the enemies are pulled 10’ towards the maw and are instantly killed when they arrive at it.
 *Attacking the tentacles will slice through them and result in one round of freedom on a successful hit doing 6 more more damage, but will not noticeably diminish their number or affect the health of the Intelligent Hunter.

Long-Necked Rivals

Among the crocodile’s rivals in those early days were other reptilian beasts – gracile, sleek, with long muscular necks; true sea dwellers with paddle-like limbs and powerful tails to propel them through the warm seas. Sometimes it fought them. The crocodile was faster, stronger. The long-necked rivals were more flexible, more willing to hunt and fight in groups. The crocodile’s armour protected it. Its rivals bodies gave way under its jaws and tail.

In its dreams, though, they came at it still. Under, above, behind, to the side. Toothed jaws snatching, biting. Plunging at its body on the end of long snake-like necks. In its nightmares it saw them, and writhed and squirmed and wrenched itself away; the memories of those dreams plague it – an eternal struggle against foes which come from every angle and are never at peace.

HD 3, AC 14, AB +4, ATT 1d6+3
*Moves along walls and ceilings as easily as the floor and shows disdain for the effects of gravity. Attacks from above at +4 to AB and from the side at +2 AB.

Globules, Hangers, Hoverers

Jellyfish. Clouds of tiny stinging globules. Floating lumps of translucent blue trailing stingers. Billowing, pulsating, throbbing mounds hanging in the deep. In the eye of the crocodile they were as much a part of its environment as kelp, as fish, as waves, as beaches. Eternal silent companions. Surroundings.

Its armoured skin too thick to be penetrated, and its speed and skill in the water too much to allow itself to be touched by stingers, to the crocodile these things were harmless. But it watched fish die in their unthinking toxic embrace. It knew that to the small or fragile their touch was death. It admired their potency. It knew that it was stronger. In the corridors of the memory of its dreams they float still – fellow travellers from its early life.

Globules

Throngs of tiny stingers. They float through the air to surround and sting. They fill a d3x10’ cube and sting automatically, causing weakness (1/4 STR) on a failed save vs poison; the effect lasts for the duration of that day. They do not have HD but can be avoided by moving past, running away, or through blasts of electricity or cold.

Hangers

They float close to the ceiling like hideous helium balloons, trailing stingers which either kill or paralyse (save vs poison; success means weakness (see above)). Stingers are extremely thin and only spotted on a roll of 1 in 6, or if actively searched for.

HD 1+1, AC 16, ATT poison, #ENC 2d6

Hoverers 

Big, translucent, graceful symmetrical discs which shimmer with iridescence as they move through the air. Their stingers mean death.

HD 4, AC 12, ATT poison, #ENC 2d6
*Move in a random direction each turn (use scatter dice); they hit anything in their path automatically – the victims must save vs poison or die.
*Are slow and can be destroyed by fire or electric blasts.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Anything Works If It's Consistent



If you want to move away from Tolkien-esque tropes and create a fantasy setting which lasts, almost anything works as long as it's consistent. I was thinking about this over the weekend while playing Super Mario Bros. Wii (I am behind the times). You can't get further away from Tolkien than the world of Mario. But it is a consistent fantastical milieu nonetheless.

This is achieved through having a selection of core themes or tropes which are ruthlessly and endlessly exploited and repeated. Mario can navigate by moving through pipes. He eats mushrooms which give him special powers. He is aided by mushroom people and a friendly dinosaur. He is confronted by hostile fire-breathing plants, tortoises, evil mushrooms and ghosts. By and large, this collection of things - the furniture of the Mario franchise, so to speak - appears in every single iteration with a few bells and whistles added. You know where you are with it. And in its own way the Mario universe is just as much a fantastical world - a legendarium or sub-creation, if you will - as Tolkien's Middle Earth. There is more to Middle Earth. But the Mario universe presents the player with something which feels coherent in the same way that Tolkien's novels present a coherent milieu to his reader - despite the fact that the Mario universe is absurdist and apparently based on free association rather than careful thought (though not, as some might argue, a piece of surrealist art).

In creating a long-lasting, interesting and innovative fantasy setting, then, I think the most important thing may well simply be to come up with, say, a dozen or so ideas, themes or tropes and make sure they appear consistently. What those ideas, themes or tropes are is probably of secondary importance to their repetitive use. 

Monday, 4 July 2016

The Three Witchdoctors

In the sweltering swamps of the lower Sunset River live three witchdoctors. They are blessed by animal spirits in the forest who have endowed them with prodigious gifts; in return the witchdoctors may not belong to any tribe, have any offspring, or love any one or any thing. 

The witchdoctors are able to extend their blessings to others, allowing those who make a significant sacrifice or achieve some great quest to temporarily invoke the relevant blessing - for instance, once per week for the duration of one hour. 

Naasioi

Naasioi represents the steadfast and warlike nature of the dog. He is squat, powerful, pot-bellied, with greying hair in his beard and coating his chest, arms, belly and groin. He wears scraps of fur on his upper arms, and a tail of bone hangs from his belt. His intelligent emotional eyes disguise nothing of what he is thinking.  

He has the following blessings:

Scent of foes. Those endowed with this blessing are never surprised.
Go for the belly. Those endowed with this blessing can identify and target weakness easily - +2 AB.
Loyalty of the pack. The followers, hirelings and henchmen of those endowed with this blessing never check morale.
Show your teeth. Attackers must check morale before attacking those endowed with this blessing.

He casts spells as a 6th level cleric. Hp: 42, AC 14, AB +9. He has a killing club which strikes at the skull unerringly – always doing maximum damage.

Uum

Uum represents the stealthy and secretive nature of the spider. He is thin, gangly, and tall, with a black feathered head-dress and face paint. He files his teeth into fangs and speaks in whispers, and hangs those he kills from branches tied in twine. 

He has the following blessings:

Creeping death. Those endowed with this blessing always surprise opponents.
Patience is always rewarded. Those endowed with this blessing can choose to act last in the initiative round and always hit when doing so.
Hunting by leaping. Those endowed with this blessing can jump up to 12’ from a standing position.
Hidden in shadows. Those endowed with this blessing can shrink into narrow spaces (height of 2’ or width of 12 inches).

6th level magic user spells. Hp: 36, AC 16, AB +7. Bolas and poison knife (save vs death).

Jibil

Jibil represents the fast and violent nature of the hornet. He has narrow aggressive-looking eyes, odd jerking motions, and strangely long legs and short arms. He cuts scars into his skin and decorates in between with bold yellows and reds. 

He has the following blessings:

The Scent of Fear. Those endowed with the blessing can track infallibly those they have encountered at least once.
Panic is My Ally. Opponents of those endowed with this blessing must save vs magic or flee when combat begins, and again if wounded.
Indignant Threat. Those endowed with this blessing must identify a single target when angered; they can then only attack this target, but their attacks against it hit automatically until it is dead.
Sting in the Tail. Those endowed with this blessing can attack and then flee in one round without incurring an attack of opportunity or likewise.


6th level magic user spells. Hp: 37, AC 16, AB +6. Javelin and blow pipe (save vs paralysis).

Thursday, 30 June 2016

More Monsters for Your Amusement

Sadly-moaning-under-rocks

Mossy, damp, looming boulders under the dark of the canopy, big and hunched like shoulders - lurking sentinels among the trees. They are the union of water, rock, plant life and millions of dead souls: repositories for the lives lost by the jungle from century to century, millennium to millennium, aeon to aeon. They brood in complete stillness, in granite solitude.

The near-daily rains weather them – very slowly, very surely. The constant quotidian rainfall wears them down grain by grain, year by year. In the run-off, trickling in miniscule speckles from the rock’s surface, are the tiniest dots of grit, each containing death and the dead: untold dozens, hundreds or thousands of lost lives.

As these tiny specks accumulate in the earth beneath the rocks, they mix with the soil and gasp and moan in collective sorrow at the meaningless cycle of life and death; at the horrific nihilism of the march of the ages that builds and crushes the substance of the earth in endless rhythmic repetition with no goal or aspiration, and which will continue until the stars have faded and the world and the moon with it has been swallowed by the sun.

AC – HD – ATT –
*At a distance, the sound of Softly-moaning-under-rocks is safe; anybody listening closely intently must save vs. magic or be unable to unhear it. From that point on the suspicion that everything is meaningless – that there is nothing but life and death and then waiting for the end of the world itself – subtly saps their energy and enthusiasm. Whenever the player rolls a dice for the PC, roll a single d10 along with it. If the result on that d10 is ‘1’, the action fails irrespective of the main result – the PC’s heart was not in it.    

Dreaming-of-magic-in-the-morning-mist

A stake of wood buried in thick heavy soil, partially obscured by green fronds and low branches. It is carved with the crude but unmistakeable features of a young girl – cut into its surface in such a way that moss and lichen and the gnawing of insect life seem not to alter it. The features never change. But the stake moves – when nobody is looking.

The stake is inhabited by the soul of a child whose tribe abandoned her to the forest when she was lamed. Starving and forced to move on, they gave her to the spirits of the forest and planted the stake to watch over her. The spirits took pity on her, and gave her everlasting life – embodied in the stake with which they found her.

Now she dwells in the forest, attuned with the spirits who live there, yet apart – tangible still, human still, dreaming still. She dreams of her own magical realm, where she might run, marry, bear children, and rule; where she might be a great chieftainess uniting all of the creatures of the forest beneath her benevolent sway - and she harvests souls to one day serve her there.

HD 6, AC 18, ATT – None
*Casts spells as an 8th level magician
*Cannot move unless nobody is looking
*Harvests souls – selects a target, the target must save vs magic or have its soul removed from its then-lifeless shell of a body and spirited into the wooden stake for eternity, unless Dreaming-of-magic-in-the-morning-mist can be persuaded to release them, or is herself destroyed (in which case all the souls inside are extinguished)

Flying-under-starlight

A giant moth, its throbbing furred body man-sized, its vast wings patterned with shimmering silver swirls which shine bright in the light of the moon. It creeps about from tree to tree and then soars above the canopy, its wing beats carrying it aloft to bathe in the silky white glow of the firmament. Its huge muscular tongue, curled beneath its head, allows it to burrow into the roots of the mightiest trees, where it sucks up sap, leaving an empty dying husk behind it as it slinks away at dawn. The tongue is a potent weapon that can pierce bone with ease.

HD 5+5, AC 18, AB +5, ATT 1d3/1d3/1d6/Death
*Attacks with forelegs and wing buffet; if both foreleg attacks hit the victim is pinned down and killed by the tongue piercing his or her brain; no save is permitted, though the moth spends 1d3 turns sucking out the juices
*Shimmering markings cause confusion for 1d6+2 rounds in a viewer on a failed save vs magic
*+2 AB and +2 DMG at night
*Emits attraction pheromones which spread 60’ around it and cause humans to develop overpoweringly amorous feelings towards one another on a failed save vs magic

A multitude of-feet-tapping-like-raindrops

Ants. A civilization of them. Millions of tiny minds. Thinking. Speaking. Walking. Gathering. Grazing. Feasting. Breeding. Killing. All in the tiniest, softest sounds which, gathered together, sound like the pitter-patter of heavy rain falling in sheets on the forest. When desired they gather together in humanoid form, some locking their feet together to form the structure of the body; others a constantly shifting working mass in the middle like blood, muscle and organs; and in the centre of the chest the beating heart – the queen – squeezing eggs from her grotesque swollen abdomen and with her pheromones guiding the hulking, shuddering, shifting mass as it strides about amongst the trees in search of food.

HD 6+2, AC 16, AB +6, ATT – Special/Special
*Attacks with ‘fists’. If either hits, soldiers stream from within the body onto that of the target, sinking their mandibles into tender skin and injecting venom that results in waves of all-consuming pain that throbs through the body as though it is itself a living thing. The pain is so great that victims void their bowels and their muscles spasm for days after; in their enfeebled state they are then butchered by the mass of tiny jaws working in perfect concert together. (Take 1d6 hp damage and save vs poison: failed save indicates paralysis for 1 day and enfeeblement – 1/4 STR – for 2d6 days; successful save indicates enfeeblement for 1d6 days.)

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Monsters

Crawling-hopping-belching-and-chewing

A squat amphibian with squalid brown eyes and claws, it is reminiscent of toads, fat swollen grubs, and hairless flabby bellies. It has a vile stink, like dead leaves, mud and rotting refuse. It belches gas and squirts poison, and gurgles strange noises into the jungle at dusk.

HD 5, AC 16, AB +6, ATT 1d6/1d6 
*If both claw attacks hit, pulls to mouth and chews for 2d6 damage per round, hitting automatically, until death of the victim)
*Squirts milky white poison to its rear in a 6’ cone spray, melting flesh for 1d6+3 damage and permanent disfigurement of -6 CHA, or -2 CHA on a successful save
*Belches gas in an 8’ cube in front of it, causing incapacitation from vomiting for 1d6 rounds, or 1d3 rounds on a successful save
*Gurgles and croaks; these are audible at a distance of a mile – those hearing are made magically curious and must approach on a failed save by the appointed dice roller for the party

Killing-with-claws-and-beak 

If the cassowaries have a devil, this is it. A blue crested big bird with bilious eyes and brutal talons. It is the height of tall man and seeks to slice at the kneecaps, groin and belly with its reptilian feet. It has the utter implacability and unhesitating aggressive initiative of a gull digging up clams or a crow carrying off a baby sparrow.

HD 4+4, AC 16, AB +7, ATT 1d6/1d6
*Roll a d3 on a successful hit – 1 indicates the knees, 2 the groin, 3 the belly. The target must successfully save vs death or be permanently lamed (half movement rate), castrated (incapacitated for two weeks), or eviscerated (death) 

Quietly-thinking-in-the-dark-forest

A black, undead husk of a tree that was sucked and gnawed and leeched to death by bugs, parasites and disease. Its soul inhabits the ruin of its former body, listening to the life of the jungle around it in suspicious fear and feeling itself slowly rot – the fungus burrowing into its corpse, the worms eating its roots. It dreams of reinvigoration, of return, of rebirth, of resurrection, of green shoots, and of life…

All that Quietly-thinking-in-the-dark-forest needs is a life – a human being is enough. That will allow it to sprout a new shoot from its old, withered and half-eaten roots. Passers-by (within 30’) must roll a saving throw vs magic. If they fail, they are overcome with the need to give their life blood to the tree. They feel as though they are filled with hot, sticky, thick fluid that needs to be released. They feel pregnant with it – as though they are walking sacks of blood which sloshes around inside them, uncomfortably, awkwardly, hatefully. They feel the disgust that a plant has towards hot, mammalian flesh. They feel compelled to slice open their wrists and groin and neck and let out all of this grotesque fluid which bloats them. If they do so, they die within a minute and the tree has the blood it needs to sprout. Within a month, a tiny shoot appears with a single yellow-green leaf. If eaten, this leaf is a cure for all diseases and a regenerator of lost limbs. If the sprout is cut out, the tree must start over again.

HD 8, AC 18, AB - , ATT –

Peering-from-tree-branches-at-night-time 

Cat-sized marsupial scuttling rat-like beasts with agile grasping hands, and muscular tails which sway back and forth in balance. They chitter and chatter to each other in conspiratorial whispers in a language that no others can understand; they are like thieves and spies in love with shadows, hiding and deceit. They sharpen their claws on tree bark so that they can catch their prey, and snigger to each other as they gnaw on bones.

Peering-from-tree-branches-at-night-time loves ears, eyes, scalps, noses, teeth. In the darkness they hang by their tails from branches, or dangle each other by the feet, to drop down on shoulders to bite and scratch and return chuckling with bloody trophies to present to their mates.

HD 1, AC 20, AB +4, ATT Special
*Are never surprised; always surprise opponents unless the opponents are deliberately scanning the trees above them
*Attack in ambush by dangling from branches and dropping down to attack: failure indicates the attacker falls the floor and scampers up a nearby tree in the next round; success means 1d6 damage and an eye, ear, the nose, or the scalp is torn out/off (roll a d4)

Making-a-beautiful-sculpture-of-many-colours

A bower bird with emerald eyes, a head of sky blue, and a body of near-luminous yellow, whose sharp intelligent beak and tenderly dextrous claws are primarily devoted to gathering items for an ever-expanding bower made from feathers, feathers, stones, shells, and skins – anything that is vibrant and vivid.

It is assisted by a juvenile male with which it dances before the bower before the sceptical eyes of females. Together, the two males bounce and circle each other in a mesmerising rhythmic movement, their yellow wings making circular motions which linger in the vision like miniature suns, burned into the retina, impossible to remove no matter how much the observer rubs his eyes, splashes them with water, blinks, or weeps. They are always there, yellow circles of light, whether the observer’s eyes are closed or open – in the centre of the vision, painful, bright, permanent. Sleep is almost impossible, and when it happens, it is dominated by a vision of a circle of yellow that appears slowly and endlessly descending, lower and lower, without ever quite arriving, without ever quite meeting the eye, without ever quite bringing the suffering to a close with the sweet embrace of death.

HD 1, AC 20, AB +1, ATT None
*If a PC sees the bower birds dancing, he or she must save vs magic or be permanently semi-blinded (-4 to all dice rolls requiring vision) and overcome by a profound malaise – roll 1d20 at the start of each day; on a roll of 1 the PC is catatonic and cannot be persuaded to do anything, although he or she will be too meek to resist being carried or led

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Four of the Tribes on the Lower Sunset River

1. The men of the Gowanusim believe in killing and death. They murder for sport and to prove themselves; they revel in it. Their war canoes are big and always well-crewed, and skim up and down the river like swimming pythons. The other tribes fear their men and hate them, and kill them in revenge where they can; everybody on the lower Sunset River has a feud with some man or other of the Gowanusim. They paint their faces red, with white tears running in streaks from their eyes, and wear necklaces of river oysters and blue feathered head dresses.

In the Gowanusim's village lives Ndam, the oldest woman in the lower Sunset River. The knowledge she holds in her head about people, places and beasts of the area could fill a frigate.

Men of the Gowanusim have an extra +1 AB and +1 hp; they are always aggressive (-4 to reaction dice rolls).

2. The Wawtua inhabit a swamp infested with venomous snakes and nests of young crocodiles; adults walk everywhere on stilts that are 18 inches high; the Wawtua are agile like colourful swamp-dwelling mountain goats. They paint their faces in a checked pattern of black, yellow, red and white, and wear head dresses of long green bird of paradise tail feathers which add an extra two feet to their height. Together with their stilts, this means the Wawtua can appear nine feet high.

The Wawtua have a poison expert dwelling among them, who uses the snakes of the swamp to craft specific toxins to kill any kind of living thing. She is only referred to as Fingers: she long ago cut away the skin of her fingertips and replaced them with finely polished bone, so that she does not accidentally stab herself with her darts and needles.

The Wawtua move 50% faster than ordinary humans and have +1 AB when using ranged weapons.

3. The Yayiwo keep bower birds; or, perhaps more accurately, bower birds keep the Yayiwo. These bower birds are of a certain variety found nowhere else; they are black and nondescript, save for their vivid purple bills. The bower birds give every appearance of ruling the Yayiwo and issue them a wide variety of chirps to signal their need for food, water, or luxuries. In return, the Yayiwo appear to gain little except for the fact that these birds act as scouts and sentinels in the forest.

The Yayiwo's witch doctor is the most puissant in the lower Sunset River. He can cure diseases and certain poisons - if the supplicant proves that he or she has spirit.

The Yayiwo coat themselves head to foot in pale brown dried mud, and cover their heads in leering face masks made from clay.

4. The Amlablak are a small tribe who expand their numbers through marriage rather than breeding. Their men and women have sex, but suppress pregnancy through the use of various herbs and toxins. Numbers expand by marrying in outsiders, who adopt new names and body decorations when they do so. They paint their faces bright yellow and jab quills through their nose and ears; their head dresses are black, blue and red.

A great seer known as Kimiagham lives with the Amlablak. Some say that he married an Amlablak woman of extraordinary beauty and hence joined the tribe; others say he founded it. In any event, his vision exists beyond and behind space and time; he can see even into the minds and memories of others, into the distant past, the far future, and potential futures and pasts which were or will always be unrealised.

The Amlablak do not trade or interact with outsiders unless they marry into the tribe.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Maze of the Blue Medusa: A Coming of Age Story



I'm sure you've already heard about the release of Maze of the Blue Medusa. I don't want to lay it on too thick, so I will refrain from gushing too much; suffice to say, I feel as though this is the point at which the Do-It-Yourself RPG movement has come of age.

Please understand me: I am not talking about "the OSR", which is a term I have never really liked. I am talking about the broader liberalisation, if you can call it that, of the creation of RPG materials for mass audiences - as facilitated and boosted by technological advancement (the internet), changes in the industry (the OGL and similar), and key innovators (everybody from Vincent Baker to Ron Edwards to James Raggi). This is what I mean when I talk about "DIY RPGs"; it's not something which the story gamers or d20 publishers can fairly be excluded from.

Why is it a coming of age moment? Because Maze of the Blue Medusa is, I think, better than most if not all mainstream RPG books which I own. It is not quite Pendragon, not quite the original Planescape boxed set. But it is at that level, in terms of the quality of the product and its content.

The fact that a couple of people made it from the modern day equivalent of a studio garret demonstrates two things. First, there are people with sufficient talent, and second that technology has advanced to such a level, that there is no excuse for there not to be a hundred such products emerging from this thing which I refer to as the "DIY RPG movement" within, say, 10 years' time. Products which are in the same bracket as the original Planescape boxed set, which was the pinnacle of what TSR was capable of at its zenith.

That is really quite something.